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Chapter 2- act 8: In to the wild

Now is the time to reach the USA, the country of infinite possibilities. But before I finally arrive the USA there is at first the flight from Tokyo to LA and about this I want to write a few words. This time I had fortunately no problems, everything was easy and relaxed but I´ve never flew with an A-380 before and I think it was the first and the last time that I had the opportunity to fly with a luxury airlines like Singapore Airlines. It was a nice experience but somehow I had all the time the feeling that in the next moment someone will appear and bring me to my right place in the not so comfortable class but this never happened. I was in the right place in economy class.

First we get this wet towels and directly a small aperitif. I took the red wine and water, when something is for free you have to make the best out of it... When the carriage with the drinks passed me the next time I emptied my glass and ordered a new one. (Since this every time when the stewardess passed me she filled my glass without asking me. What a service... To get drunk in a plane was also part of this nice experience) Now I studied the extraordinary supply of movies, TV-Series, Music and games which you could choose to watch or to play on your personal display in the back of the seat in front of you. And there were not only a few films. They had an own magazine to choose from. Once I flew with Air Asia to South Korea but this was another level.... Also you could choose from a menu what to eat and what kind of wine you want to enjoy with your meal. I chose a Bourdaux and the chicken with broccoli and potatoes which was with a great distance the best I have ever eaten at an airplane. During this meal I started a conversation with my neighbor, which was a 19 year old girl from Colorado. I was in such a good mood that I gave her advices for her live and talked so much and so loud that I get exhorted by the stewardess that normally we have night now and other passengers want to sleep...( As I sad it is wonderfull to get drunk in the plane...) Instead of talking I watched now a movie and get in the right mode to reach the USA by watching GI Joe, what is in fact a advertisement film for the US-Army hidden in an action film costume. To sleep was no option for me because we overstepped the date border and started at 8 o clock in the evening and arrived at 1 o´clock pm at the same day. It is really a strange feeling... Actually you have won a few hours of time but your body do not want to accept the change so easily...

Before I arrived the nature of Alaska I made my first experiences with the „normal“ USA and I cannot overstep this. My image of the States is formed by movies, news and books. I have a really clear expectation of what will await me there. And I have to say we know the states very good if we believe the stereotypes of Americans and the country are true. In fact almost everything is like in my imagination. I have never seen so many fat people. Normally there are a few fat persons everywhere but in the states (and until now I speak from smaller cities like Anchorage or Fairbanks) there are sometimes only fat people when you turn around in the right moment. Whole fat families, with fat children and fat grandmas and this is why you have really to search if you will find a restaurant which serves not only fast food. For me it is the heaven on earth, McDonalds, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and a lot of other companies, I´ve never heard the name before, but only because I know I will leave this country in a few weeks. “Supersize me” is not a joke it is the reality. We all know this but to see it is another thing... And the big brands are established a lot of times in a town of which size in Germany a town must be „happy“ if they have two McDonalds and two Burger King... And everything is huge, so huge... The streets are huge, the cars are huge and also the drinks. When you order a medium coke in the cinema, you get one liter... And the cinema itself...In a town of 50 thousand inhabitants, you have a multiplex cinema with 16 halls...

Everything is here constructed for car users... This is really a country of car-fanatics. As a person without a car you have bad cards to go somewhere in under half an hour. Of course there are also some busses. But the system of public transportation didn´t realy earns this name. There are only a few busses a day and of course you have also to walk a good distance to the stations. Sometimes I thought that you have better a car to reach the busses... And Wal- mart... Just to go there and to watch the people is interesting. Some of them look like they woke up just a few minutes ago. I mean there is no dress code in European countries to go shopping and there should also be none and I´m not the kind of person who spend a lot of attention to the appearance of people but what I saw here is without an example... A guy from Wisconsin whom I told this impression recommended to me to watch at you tube some videos with people at Wal- mart and I have to say it is quite funny…

It also appears to me really strange when one could find next to basketballs and travel cases shot-guns, rifles and 9mm´s. I don’t want to live in a country where you can buy sausages and weapons in the same shop... Somehow I cannot feel safe with this in my mind and Alaska is very extreme in this sense. The people are more addicted to guns then elsewhere in the states and they are more conservative. Not without a reason, Sarah Palin was once the governor of this state... If you ever wanted to buy a pump gun at four o’clock in the morning, the USA are the right place for that.

Why I came to Wal-mart is because I had to buy some camping stuff. To go into the wild should not be done without being good prepared. I don’t want to end like the guy in the movie with the same name.. And because I didn´t want to travel around half of the world with all the equipment I have to equip myself at the place of my adventure. I bought a tent, a compass, a mattress, a propane-cooker, water-filter, a emergency-mirror, a emergency blanket, a first aid kit, mosquito spray (very important, mosquitoes are a real plague in Alaska and if you don’t want to scratch your whole body bloody it is really necessary) and so on and so forth. And then there are the bears in the wild so I bought a bear bell, bear spray and a bear keg (A plastic box to store all the food) and of course a rope to put all the food into a tree in the night. In total I spend a lot of money into the equipment but at least I want to feel as safe as possible because despite of my great words to want this adventure (and I really want it) I´m in fact a little bit scared....But first I had to find out where I should go. There are a lot of hiking tracks around Anchorage but the most of them are only styled for one day hikes. And this is not really an adventure. I want to go camping in the nature. Otherwise I had bought all the stuff without any sense. And of course you can reach the most trail heads only by car... So I made a big research in the internet, in a hiking guide I bought and Barnes&Nobles (the book store, but not a normal one this is literally the Wal- Mart for books...) and by asking locals. Finally I found a multi- day tour which is accessible by train At least you come into a near distance to the trail-head, so that I had only walk another 7 miles to reach the trail) the crow-pass trail, which should be one of the most popular and most beautiful in the country.

So then, I´m mentally and physically ready for my first hike in the wild of Alaska. I have all the stuff and a plan.

I go by the Alaska railroad to the small city of Girdwood but unfortunately the Alaska railroad is not a normal train in our sense it is mostly a sightseeing train for tourists from all over the world. So there is a full service of tour guiding, stops for cute mountain-sheep and every times the advise to have your cameras ready when there is a good spot to take some photos. So I feel more on a Sunday-morning excursion then on the way to a big adventure. Happily I need only to go one and a half hours by the train and leave it at the first station after the departure. I feel much more comfortable after I leave all the families and old people which scream every times when they saw a small lamb in the mountains and take the cameras out at every spot, which is already photographed by hundred thousands of peoples. It is like everywhere, it could be so nice if there hadn´t been all the other tourists, which give you the feeling that you are only one of them and not the guy on his way to a great experience. In fact the track of the railroad along the coast into this nice Fjord is really amazing. And the scenery has not to hide behind the nicest Norwegian Fjords.

Like I said, when I was off the train I felt much better. Now the adventure can begin. Or not really yet because first I have to walk the seven miles to the trail-head. And these seven miles are longer then I had hoped before... Every step is not only a step straight but also a slight step above. That means that I have to walk 7 miles normal distance and 450m in height. But finally I´m on my way and so I take this challenge in a good mood and with a song on my lips. I come step by step closer to my destination. In four hours I reach the trail-head. A few hundred meters before the trail-head a car is stopping besides me and a young guy asks me if I want to go the whole trail. After my positive reply he advises me not to do that because he has met some bears and even with his companionship of two other peoples and a lot of noise they made about a time of 10 hours he felt not very safe. I´m a little bit shocked because I had called the park rangers a few hours ago and they told me everything is clear now and the danger is not about the average ( until the day of my departure one part of the trail was closed because a grizzly killed a moose directly on the trail and has charged a hiker because he thought that he wanted to steal some of his lunch). I say this to the guy and he replies that they have seen some parts of the dead moose and that the smell has probably lead some more grizzlies to this place. Wonderful I think, but as easy as this I don´t want to give up my plans. I want to see it with my own eyes. To return is also then possible and so I say thank you for the advice but I will try it. The guy wishes me the best luck and continues his way. After my dinner I meet two young park rangers who just in this moment remove the bear warning sign from the beginning of the trail. They assert me with the words: Of course there are a lot of bears in this area but now they are not more dangerous than they normally are... Ah ok that sounds very safe...

Until yet the weather is not really friendly, it´s foggy and big clouds hide the top of the mountains, where I want to go. But with my start on the real trail it gets better and better. My first task is to overcome another 600 meters in height and two miles in distance and this time there is no street. The way is, like the ways normally are in the mountains, full of stones. Small ones, big ones and sometimes really big ones, so that the hiking is really challenging. Within the first hour my right hip starts to hurt. Why to the hell my hip? Not my feet or my legs, my hip...Sometimes I wish that I could watch into my body and see what is going on there. Every step with the right leg becomes a challenge. But no excuses put your teeth together and go on. Because of the clouds which are still there I have no orientation how long I have to go or compare the walked distance with the distance I have to go. Sometimes there is more than one way and because I cannot see more then the next 20 meters I do not know which to take. I take every times the one which leads me more up. Fortunately it is the right decision , because I reach the pass and like in a theatre the cloud-curtains open in this moment. I can see a quite wonderful scenery. A blue and in the sun glittering glacier lake lies in a little valley directly before me, surrounded by sharp stones covered by snow. A little river flows through the valley from the lake and on the other side of the lake a waterfall comes down from the glacier. Because of this magic moment (and my hurting hip) I decide to rest at this place and to build up my tent even it is only three o´clock in the afternoon but I have already 7 hours of walking behind me.

 

 

 

The tent I bought is not high quality, which you cannot expect for a price of 50$ but the building is easy and it looks quite stable. I spend the rest of the day just with looking at the lake and the mountains and reading in this fantastic atmosphere. Only two other hikers I see at this place so that I have almost the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. My meal for the evening is inspired by astronaut’s food. A dried, frozen portion of beef stroganoff (or Cosmonauts in this case). The only thing I have to do is filling some boiling water in the bag, close it and wait a few minutes and the meal is ready. Until now I thought Astronauts (or Cosmonauts and since a few years also Taikonauts) food must be horrible but if they get the same it is actually not so bad. And in Wal-Mart they had really plenty of different products to choose from. Also ice-cream, breakfast-omelets or lasagna. I´m almost happy that I will have a few more days in the wild so that I can eat myself through this whole supply of different products... I go to bed early because I want to start the day also early. But after only a few hours I wake up, shivering and my whole tent is shaking. The weather must be becoming worse in the night. I put on my long underpants and be able to sleep another few hours after I wake up again, still freezing. I put on another pair of trousers, a pullover and socks and now it works until the next morning. Perhaps my summer-sleeping bag is not enough for this kind of adventure... So I make a remark in my mind that I have to buy a better sleeping bag before my next trip. Ah, it is wonderful to learn out of experiences. Sometimes it have to hurt....I´m so happy about my propane-cooker at the morning and about the possibility to drink some warm tea that I praise this investment even more as after the beef stroganoff... The scenery out of my tent (which is quite wet, so I have to hope that the day will be sunny and dry so that I can dry it in the evening) is still wonderful. Clouds are blowing through the valley by the wind and I take a picture. But why the battery-status of my camera is red? It was almost full the last evening. Somehow one of the buttons has been pushed and it was on the whole night...Damn... The camera is really not bad. Small and light but the transportation is very difficult. The buttons are not hidden, so that every times when something hard which is with the camera in the pocket hit one of the buttons it turns on without being noticed by me... and to recharge only with mini-USB and the places to do this are very rare in the nature. So this was the last picture on my trip and this after the first day... There is only my cell-phone left and this I have to use very carefully and have to turn it off the most time because I need it in cases of emergency and there will be no energy in the next four days. Additionally I have to write Steffi a message on Thursday when I finish my trail, otherwise she will call the Alaska state troopers, like we have discussed. She is my security-plan if something happened, knows the trail and the day of my return. Besides this the camera is really bad. But now my only chance to prove that I was really here... And this in the situation when I cross the pass and have this amazing view into the valley (On my last day of the trial a local whom I met said to me that the view into the valley is one of the 7 most beautiful scenery in whole Alaska ) and on the glacier... But in my mind this pictures never die. But of course you want to show this and make the other people at home jealous. Anyway you have to believe me at this point. It is incredible. Like in a movie.

The green of the valley is shining and the blue of the glacier intensive like the sea. It´s absolutely silent, the only noise you can hear is the roaring of the waterfall produced by the glacier-water and a scream of an eagle which sails in the air... With this impression I start my way into the valley to the eagle river. And now my bear bell starts to work, because I come in an area with a lot of bushes and the way leads you through the plants so that one could not see more then the next meter and what is more important also a potential bear cannot see one coming. So, one of the most important rules in a bear-area is to make noise so that you do not surprise the bear and follows his reflex of protecting himself, which could end unfortunate for a human. The ringing of the bell was my persistent companion for the next days. What one does to be safe...

I do my first crossing of a river but unfortunately I think that I can do it without getting wet feet because there were some stones in the river. In the middle of the river I noticed that the distance is too far so that I had to step into the water if I do not want to become old at this place. I arrive the other shore with wet feed and weak legs because under my afford to stay dry I felt almost in the river with my whole backpack... And I can say to you hiking with wet feet is no fun... I tried to dry the boots in the sun but if this heavy hiking boots are once totally wet it is not so easy to get them dry...

The roaring of the eagle river one can hear from a farer distance and when I see the river for the first time my only thought is: How the hell should I cross this river. The water is fast so that you can do some rafting or wild water kayaking in the river and the color is grey so that one cannot see how deep the river is and what kind of stones are at the ground. But perhaps there are some stones or a kind of handrail at the place which is marked in the card for the crossing. I finally reach this place and the only difference I see that the river is broader at this place but the water is as fast as before and there are no helping instruments.... After half an hour of thinking I decided not to try it also because I tried with my hiking sticks how deep the water will be and after two steps it is over my knees. I have this imagination like I slip away and my too heavy backpack (because I have not only all the camping stuff with me, also some dirty cloths and too much clean cloths which I didn´t leave in the hostel) which is more than 20kg pulls me under water, in my panic and with the from the cold stiff fingers I cannot open the belts and so I drift down the river and the air in my lungs gets less and less...No, I don´t want to die like this. (On my way back I met a couple from Pennsylvania, whom I told my story and the guy  said to me that I acted quite right. The newspapers had only written that a tourist died because he was stupid and not well prepared. Who wants to die stupid?) I´m a little bit disappointed of myself but in combination with the bear-warnings for the other shore of the river from the day before I can find enough arguments to defend the decision before myself...

Because it is already in the evening I search for a nice place to camp near the river and after finding it I search also for some wood to make a small camp-fire to dry my boots. At the fire I eat my next Astro-, Kosmo-, Taikonauts-Meal, which is Chicken-Teriyaki this time. I pull my meals up to a tree and after that I recognize that I made the fire also to have an effective weapon against a bear... But I was not really scared. In fact I enjoyed my place at the camp fire a lot. Looking up to the mountains, besides me the roaring of the river. Magical. Only the dogs are lacking and the bacon and the beans and it would be like in a novel of Jack London. (but perhaps they have at least a meal at Wal-Mart with the same taste.)

The breakfast the next day is very special because I have a meeting of a natural kind. I’m sitting there with my tea and a piece of beef jerky ( I love it and just for the big packagages of this stuff at Wal-Mart it is worthy to be in the USA) and looking into the blue sky as I hear something next to me. I’m looking at this point more as a reflex because the fear of the bears was at this point not as strong as in the beginning and I’m sitting there face to face to a moose. No, face to face is not right, more face (me) to knee (moose). It’s a really big animal and with only five meters between us and no fence I’m shocked an frozen to a statue. The moose is really calm, bites a few leaves from the next tree, is looking at me and decides then to go another way. It turns around and vanishes between the bushes. I’m starting to move again, my hurt is bumping. And only when I can see the tail anymore I’m realizing that it had been nice to take a picture. But then I realize that my camera has no energy and the moment is gone anyway. So also this time you have to believe me. It’s a completely different thing to meet such animals in the wild then it is to stand near to them for example in a zoo.

The adventure is going on…

25.7.13 05:40
 


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